In Sketches of Jewish Social Life, Dr. Alfred Edersheim gives us a picture of the Jewish history and attitudes towards commerce.
can be no question that, according to the Divine purpose, Israel was
not intended to be a commercial people. The many restrictions to the
intercourse between Jews and Gentiles, which the Mosaic law everywhere
presents, would alone have sufficed to prevent it. Then there was the
express enactment against taking interest upon loans (Lev_25:36-37),
which must have rendered commercial transactions impossible, even though
it was relaxed in reference to those who lived outside the boundaries
of Palestine (Deu_23:20).
In the era of the Old Testament, Dr. Edersheim notes that the seaboard was, except for a short time during Solomon’s reign, in the hands or foreigners. This along with the requirements of the Jubilee year and the characteristics of the land were not conducive to trade between the Jews and Gentiles. Dr. Edersheim quotes the Jewish historian Josephus on the matter of the Jewish attitudes towards commerce:
As for ourselves, we neither inhabit a maritime country, nor do we delight in merchandise, nor in such a mixture with other men as arises from it; but the cities we dwell in are remote from the sea, and having a fruitful country for our habitation, we take pains in cultivating that only.
But eventually Dr. Edersheim notes the attitudes gradually changed along with the changing circumstances of the people with the main object to restrict and regulate commercial occupations with rabbinical oversight.
Long before the Babylonian captivity, a great number of Jews were living in Egypt and Dr. Edersheim notes that they. . . "controlled Egypt’s large export trade, especially in grain--and Egypt was the granary of the world--was entirely in their hands.”
whom this epistle was written, perhaps James had these rich traders in
mind in these first five verses of chapter five, perhaps not.
What should our attitude be towards the wealthy?
Our attitude should be to love them as we love ourselves just as James told us in Chapter two. In Chapter two we saw how James reminds his readers who were typically poor, that the rich are exploiting them, dragging them to court, and slandering the noble name of Jesus Christ. We understood that James was not encouraging his poor brethren to disrespect the rich, but was encouraging them not to be respecters of persons and to follow the great commandment to love God and to love others as you love yourselves just as our Lord told us in Matthew 22.
We naturally group people into categories such as: southern people, white people, Chinese people, black people, people of this or that tribe or neighborhood or city, poor people, or rich people. However, when we make assumptions about all people in the categories you create for them based on limited observations of the people in those categories, we incorrectly employ what is known as the logical fallacy of a Hasty Generalization.
We are all unique individuals. Certainly there are some things that may be common to a category of peoples but no one should consider people based on assumptions of categorical characteristics. People deserve to be judged as God judges them – on their heart. Wouldn’t you agree and don’t you want this same type of judgment from others?
1. How do the first five verses of James Chapter 5 fit with the last five verses of James Chapter 4?
In chapter four the idea is that we do not gain anything, especially material wealth, by anything we do ourselves. We should not boast about anything we do as though we have accomplished anything. Instead we should recognize that the Lord God Almighty is the provider of our lives and everything else that comes with it. Without Him and His blessing we cannot accomplish a single thing.
In chapter five the idea is a continuation of that thought. It goes to those who have gotten gain without regard for the allowance or blessings of God’s providence on their wealth. The same idea in James four of the temporary aspect of life itself is expanded. Now the discussion goes to the illusion of the permanence of the riches that will be gone tomorrow just as one’s life will also vanish.
2. In chapter two James was speaking to the poor about the rich, but now James is addressing the rich directly in this last chapter. What is the main point of verses 1-5? Is it the same message Jesus provided in Luke 12, verse 15-22?
The main point of verses 1-5 is that the riches which you delight in now will make you sad in the future
It is a similar message – Jesus said that a man’s life consist of more than the abundance of the things he possesses in Luke 12 and that the real riches are not seen because they are not in the material things of life but are the unseen, the spiritual things of God. The teaching of Jesus is given in response to a man who asks Jesus to tell his brother to share his inheritance with him.
The essence of the teaching that a man’s life consist of more than the abundance of the things he possesses is part of the message in James, but there is another component as well. James states in verses 4 and 5 that the rich have defrauded their workers and therefore stolen to become rich at the expense of the poor.
1. Analyze verses 2 and 3 from James Chapter 5. What did the rich do with their wealth that was wrong and sinful?
They hoarded their wealth as opposed to sharing it as evidenced by:
The commentary from the Believer’s Bible Commentary on this subject is very insightful:
The Bible never says that it is a sin to be rich. A person, for instance, may inherit a fortune overnight and certainly he has not committed any sin in thus becoming rich. But the Bible does teach that it is wrong to hoard riches. The Lord Jesus expressly forbade the hoarding of wealth. He said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
James speaks of wealth in four forms: riches, garments, gold, and silver. In Bible times, wealth was generally in the form of grain, oil, and other produce: clothing, gold, and silver. Perhaps when James says “Your riches are corrupted,” he means that the grain had become wormy and the oil had become rancid. The point is that these things had been hoarded to the point where they were spoiled. They could have been used at one time to feed the hungry; now they were worthless. “Your garments are moth-eaten,” he says. This doesn't happen to clothing that is in regular use. But when the closet is so crowded with garments that they are used very infrequently, they are subject to moth damage.
To James it is morally wrong to hoard clothes like this when so many people in the world are in desperate need. James 5:3 Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you, and will eat your flesh like fire, he continues. Gold and silver do not rust, but they do tarnish and become discolored, and under unfavorable storage conditions, they could conceivably corrode. Instead of putting their money to work, feeding the hungry, clothing the destitute, providing medicines for the sick, and spreading the gospel, the rich were saving their money for a “rainy day.” It benefited no one, and eventually rotted away.
Corrosion, speaking of disuse and decay, will be a condemning testimony against the rich. If this was true of the rich people of James' day, how much more true is it of believers in our day? What will be our condemnation if we have had the means of spreading the gospel and have failed to use it? If we have hoarded material things when they might have been used in the salvation of souls? The expression their corrosion ... will eat your flesh like fire means that their failure to use their riches for the good of others would cause them the keenest suffering and remorse.
2. Read the parable Jesus tells in Luke 12:16-31. What advice can we glean from this so that we can avoid hoarding our wealth?
Jesus tells us not to hoard so as to comfort ourselves with a false security as the man who built the barns did, but rather to seek the Lord's provision as our security. When we seek the Kingdom of God our physical or financial security and therefore our hoarding is not our concern. Instead, the eternal rewards we gather and our eternal life with the Lord and our joy of serving the Lord in this life become our security.
1. In verse five of James Chapter 5, James declares the rich have lived in luxury or pleasure on the earth, that they have been wanton or self-indulgent. In verse six he goes on to say the rich have killed the just or innocent who were not opposing them.
Now in verses seven through eleven what is the advice given, to whom is it given, who was offered as an example, and why is this advice given?
Vincent’s Word Studies tells us that this word translated patient comes from the Greek word makrothumeō. It is a combination of the words translated in English as long and soul or spirit, and has a sense of strong passion, stronger even than anger. It has been described as a tumultuous welling up of the whole spirit; a mighty emotion which seizes and moves the whole inner man. Hence the restraint implied in this Greek word is most correctly expressed by long-suffering, which is its usual rendering in the New Testament. It is a patient holding out under trial; a long-protracted restraint of the soul from yielding to passion, especially the passion of anger. It signifies persistent endurance, whether in action or suffering.
2. How does the advice of James Chapter 5 verse 9 fit in the context of the chapter?
James is exhorting the poor not to hold grudges against the rich but to be patient with them.
From Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible the idea of the Greek word used for grudge (stenazō) is “to sigh, to groan,” as of persons in distress (as used in Romans 8:23), to sigh or groan through impatience, fretfulness, ill-humor; and hence “to murmur, to find fault, and to complain.”
The exact idea here is, not that of grudging in the sense of dissatisfaction with what others possess, or of being envious; it is that of being fretful and impatient - or, to use a common word which more exactly expresses the sense that of grumbling.
This may arise from many causes; either because others have advantages which we have not, and we are discontented and unhappy, as if it were wrong for them to have such enjoyment; or because we, without reason, suppose they intend to slight and neglect us; or because we are ready to take offence at any little thing, and to “pick a quarrel” with them.
There are some persons who are always grumbling. They have a sour, dissatisfied, discontent attitude; they see no excellence in other persons; they are displeased that others are more prosperous, honored, and beloved than they are themselves; they are always complaining of what others do, not because they are injured, but because others seem to them to be weak and foolish; they seem to feel that it becomes them to complain if everything is not done precisely as in their estimation it should be.
It is needless to say that this spirit - the offspring of pride - will make anyone lead a wretched life; and equally needless to say that it is wholly contrary to the spirit of the gospel. Compare the contentment exhorted in Luke 3:14, Philippians 4:11, I Timothy 6:8, and Hebrews 13:5.
1. James says in verse twelve of James Chapter 5 that above all things that the brethren should not swear either by heaven or by earth or anything else or they will be condemned. Does a reading of Matthew 5:33-37 help us understand why we should not swear by heaven or earth? Does this include the use of profanity?
Notes on this from The Believers Bible Commentary:
Impatience in times of trial is also manifested in swearing. Here it is not a question of profanity, or cursing, primarily. Neither is it a matter of taking an oath in a court of law. The practice forbidden is the thoughtless use of the Lord's Name or some other name to attest the truthfulness of one's speech. The Christian should not have to swear by anyone or anything, either in heaven or on earth. Those who know him should be able to depend on the fact that his “Yes” means “Yes” and his “No” means “No.”
The Mosaic Law contained several prohibitions against swearing falsely by the name of God (Lev 19:12; Num 30:2; Deu 23:21). To swear by God's Name meant that He was your witness that you were telling the truth. The Jews sought to avoid the impropriety of swearing falsely by God's Name by substituting heaven, earth, Jerusalem, or their head as that by which they swore.
Jesus condemns such circumvention of the law as sheer hypocrisy and forbids any form of swearing or oaths in ordinary conversation. Not only was it hypocritical, it was useless to try to avoid swearing by God's Name by merely substituting another noun for His Name. To swear by heaven is to swear by God's throne. To swear by the earth is to swear by His footstool. To swear by Jerusalem is to swear by the royal capital. Even to swear by one's own head involves God because He is the Creator of all.
For the Christian, an oath is unnecessary. His Yes should mean Yes, and his No should mean No. To use stronger language is to admit that Satan—the evil one—rules our lives. There are no circumstances under which it is proper for a Christian to lie.This passage also forbids any shading of the truth or deception. It does not, however, forbid taking an oath in a court of law. Jesus Himself testified under oath before the High Priest (Mat 26:63 ff). Paul also used an oath to call God as his witness that what he was writing was true (2Co 1:23; Gal 1:20).
2. Again and again James calls for control of one’s speech or tongue. We have seen a call for control of our speech in James 1:26, 2:12, 3:2-11, and 4:11. Finally he calls for control of our speech in verse twelve. Why does James emphasize this so much?
What is in the well comes out in the bucket
Jesus said it best:
The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. Luke 6:45 NIV
3. What are the two things in verse fourteen of James Chapter 5 that believers are told to do when they are sick? What are the two results that are promised in verse fifteen of James Chapter 5?
Call for the elders of the church
Pray for him and anoint him with oil
a prayer of faith will save the sick
if he has sins they will be forgiven
Do the lessons from the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew Chapters 5, 6 and 7 also occur in the Book of James Chapter 5?
Can you cite the verses?
Matthew 5:1-22 and James 1:2:
When your life is full of difficulties and persecutions, be glad a reward awaits you
Matthew 5:48 and James 1:4:
When you endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect, mature, and complete
Matthew 7:7-12 and James 1:5; 5:15:
Ask God and He will answer
Matthew 5:3 and James 1:9:
Those who are humble (who don’t amount to much by the worlds standards) should rejoice in their position as those whom God loves
Matthew 5:22 and James 1:19-20:
Watch out for your anger, it can be dangerous
Matthew 5:7; 6:14 and James 2:13:
Be merciful to others, as God is merciful to you
Matthew 7:21-23 and James 2:14-16:
Your faith must express itself in helping others
Matthew 5:9 and James 3:17-18:
Blessed are the peacemakers, they sow in peace and reap a harvest of righteousness
Matthew 6:24 and James 4:4:
You cannot serve God and money, pleasures or evil - Friendship with the world is hatred toward God
Matthew 5:3-4 and James 4:10:
When you humble yourself and realize your dependence on God, he will lift you up
Matthew 7:1-2 and James 4:11:
Don’t slander or speak evil against others, these go against God’s command to love one another
Matthew 6:19 and James 5:2-3:
Treasures on earth will only rot and fade away – store up eternal treasures in heaven
Matthew 5:12 and James 5:10:
Be patient in suffering; as God’s prophets were patient
Matthew 5:33-37 and James 5:12:
Be honest in your speech; just say a simple yes or no so that you will always be trusted
James and Jude Bible Commentaries
We offer a free commentary on the Books of James and Jude. This 123 page free resource is a great Bible Study aid for the Books of James and Jude. It is authored by Dr. Bob Utley and offered to you through our partnership with Bible Lessons International.